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Celebrating Wendy, Saint Mary’s style

Mandy Stirone | Thursday, November 9, 2006

What started with a heartfelt expression of regret for Wendy Wasserstein’s untimely death in January of 2006 ultimately became a side-splitting selection of one-act plays by the late writer. Professor Katie Sullivan of the Saint Mary’s Theatre Department has created a commemoration of Wasserstein shows, which will be shown in the Moreau Theater at St. Mary’s from tonight until Saturday. The show, called “Celebrating Wendy,” shows off the versatility of the actors and the depth and variation of Wasserstein’s imagination through her plays.

Wasserstein’s plays, all published together in 1999, ranged from a fantasy that included Wasserstein herself meeting her idol Bette Midler, to a little girl fighting with her father, to the re-writing of a famous Greek Tragedy. They spanned decades and portrayed many types of women and men in various scenarios.

The various plays used a very “RENT”-like set in which various props were used as other parts of the scenery, as well as a similar small cast of actors playing several parts instead of an actor for each individual part. Costumes were unique and sometimes very glitzy. The tongue-in-cheek jokes and subtle humor all reflect Wasserstein’s sense of humor and sarcasm.

Full of song and dance, the cast and crew glides through the various plays with style and wit. After Sullivan’s opening speech, a very ruffled looking Wasserstein, played by Christina Kloess, rushes on stage to begin the show. She and Bette, played by Monica Mastracco, grace the stage in-between each play, with Bette breaking into song each time, sometimes with Wendy accompanying her. They are also joined, in two instances, by a chorus, once only three girls, and finally with the entire cast.

The one-acts begin then with “Boy meets Girl,” narrated onstage by Bill Svelmoe and Lauren Mangiaforte. It tells the tale of two thirty-somethings, portrayed by Emily Rose Zandstra and Michael Girts, who become a couple. The sarcastic word play reflects the conflict between what the characters really feel and what they actually tell each other. It also relies on stereotypical statements and mockery of psychiatry and dating. By far the funniest character in this play is the Queen Leona Hamsley, played by Amanda Ann Goetz, who is the celebrant at the couple’s wedding.

After another shot of Wendy and Bette’s day together a young ballerina and her father, portrayed by Caroline Walker and Louis MacKenzie, duke it out in a stereotypical father-daughter fight of the 90’s and eventually make up in “Tender Offer. “

Bette and Wendy sing a beloved Disney song before the audience views a couple from a time when women riding bicycles was illegal. Byelinkov, portrayed by Michael Kramer, is an uptight schoolteacher soon to be married to the flighty, flirty Varinka, played by Victoria Abram-Copenhaver. All the comedy in this skit derives from the obvious differences between them and their ways of dealing with these differences. His rigid nature conflicts with her carefree demeanor in several instances including the riding of a bicycle and the saying of the words, “I love you.” Byelinkov supplies the most hilarity here by seeming utterly bewildered at everything Varinka says or does.

Next, a spunky, peppy work out girl, played by Amanda Ann Goetz, shows that there’s more to her than what her students see during her class. Talking the whole time she’s working out, sometimes to her students whom the audience never sees, her mood goes from light to serious in a few minutes and then she gets up and just keeps on going as if nothing is wrong.

After a short intermission Bette and Wendy buy some makeup and Emily Rose Zandstra and Michael Girts recite Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94 in the opening of “Waiting for Philip Glass.” Here the wealthy main characters trade insults in a scene that seems like “The O.C.” meets “Sex and the City.” A lot of gossip and stress contribute to the absurdity in this scene where Holden, played by Susan Baxter, meets up with her ex-husband, portrayed by Richard Baxter, and his new wife, Rina, played by Ayslinn E. McGovern, at a party she is throwing for Philip Glass, who is late. Everything from Spencer, played by Carline Walker, who has something to say about everyone who comes in, to Holden’s mini break down, fits in well with the wealthy, fake air the scene shows.

By far, the funniest scene in the production, “Medea” is re-written, and hilarity ensues. Medea, played by Kelly Lynn Plush, introduces herself and complains of the lack of women’s roles before the scene even starts. Between her intentional over-acting, and a chorus, played by Victoria Abram-Copenhaver, Shawna Broughton, and Lauren Mangiaforte, who love to throw pop-culture references into their lines, the play was hysterical over all.

Overall, Wasserstein’s one-acts are represented in a well-acted series of plays by a well-prepared group of actors. While the most obvious objective of the plays is humor, a serious side can also been seen in each of the characters, both male and female. Many of them struggle with depression and anxiety and, though psychiatry is mocked in several scenes, it also seems to be doing the characters some small amount of good.

Their lives are all affected by whatever it is they feel, and even Wasserstein’s character experiences uncertainty and feelings of inferiority. Each actor seemed to get his or her character and showed that through their portrayals, which makes “Celebrating Wendy” a worthwhile show, and a strong homage to the late playwright’s works.